トルコ・ハタイ県の村に住むアフガン難民

地滑りで消滅した近くの村の避難民を住まわせるために用意された、ハタイ県のOvakentオヴァケント村に、1980年代に受け入れたアフガニスタンのウズベク系難民5000人のうち170人が住み着いた。今では村の人口は7000人で、うち8割がアフガン難民、2割が地滑りの村出身者。



Syrian refugee host Hatay no stranger to 'guests'
http://todayszaman.com/news-248540-syrian-refugee-host-hatay-no-stranger-to-guests.html
26 June 2011, Sunday / MUHLİS KAÇAR, ANKARA

Hatay, the seat of one of Turkey's ancient civilizations and a province that borders Syria, has a few of what Turkish politicians call "guests" from Syria, as five tent cities set up in the area are hosting around 11,000 Syrian refugees as of this week.

Yet Hatay is no stranger to such a situation as it was faced with hosting thousands of "guests" of Afghan-Uzbek origin almost 30 years ago, when a civil war in Afghanistan was at its peak.

In the 1980s, the people of Afghanistan defended their country against Russian occupation. As a result Russia had to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan and eventually leave altogether, but in 1982 a civil war broke out in Afghanistan, forcing thousands of families to leave their homeland and seek refuge in neighboring countries, such as Pakistan and India.

Turkey was among the first countries to reach out to those who left Afghanistan.

In the 1980s the Afghan refugees settled in several cities in Turkey, but primarily Gaziantep, Tokat, Van, Kırşehir and Hatay. Later, around 5,000 of them migrated to İstanbul in search of business opportunities. Of those 5,000 initial Afghan refugees who were brought to Turkey, around 170 families settled in Ovakent, a district of Hatay that was created at the end of the 1970s for those who lost their land and homes in a devastating landslide in a nearby village.

Today, the registered population of Ovakent has risen to 7,000, all with Turkish citizenship. Around 80 percent of Ovakent's residents are Afghan refugees and the remaining 20 percent are from the village destroyed by the landslide.

Afghans who settled in other parts of Turkey, desperately seeking jobs to survive, in time became economically sufficient: They have set up shops, production facilities and even created jobs for other people as business owners. Ovakent enjoyed a vibrant leather sector until the late 1990s, when it lost a big portion of its market to much cheaper Chinese products. Nowadays, around half of the population is busy with agricultural activities and the others are involved in the textile sector. Commenting on the Syrian refugees, who mainly live in the Yayladağı and Altınözü districts of Hatay, Ovakent Mayor Abdülşükür Mert, an Afghan-Uzbek himself, says he was in the same situation almost 30 years ago when they first moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan, later to be brought to Turkey and settle in Ovakent. "Therefore, I understand the hardships those people are going through because of the unrest in their country," Mert told Sunday's Zaman.

"The Afghans who originally migrated to Turkey, where they were welcomed, given a place to live and allowed to participate in society, are still grateful for what this country did for them. Turkey is now providing shelter to Syrians who are fleeing their country in search of a safe place, hoping that they can return to their homeland when the situation returns to normal," he says. "And if -- and no one hopes for this -- the tension escalates in Syria and those people decide to stay and apply for residency in Turkey, then Turkey has enough expertise to deal with it, speaking from my own experience," Mert says. "Of course, the Turkish authorities have the final say on the matter, based on their own evaluations and information," Mert added.

Şevki Tepe is among the 20 percent of Ovakent who left a nearby village due to the massive landslide at the end of the 1970s. He has now been the Ovakent municipality treasurer for almost 15 years.

Tepe notes that there are very many ethnicities and cultures living in peaceful coexistence in Hatay and that hosting the Syrian refugees is a humanitarian deed for Turkey. "As a nation we were always there for those in need who faced hardship in their own countries. This was the case during the Ottoman Empire, as it is the case now in modern Turkey," he states. He says it was not easy for those Afghan refugees to adapt to new places, a different country and a new environment. Yet in time, as their children went to school, got an education and grew up in the new area, the community became part of society and the country.

"Around 2,000 kids are attending elementary school in Ovakent, along with almost 500 students in secondary and tertiary education in Hatay. Education plays a vital role in adapting to a new country," he explains. The fate of the Syrian refugees in Hatay is not yet known, as the situation in Syria is cloudy despite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's promises to reform the country. While Turkey and EU countries press for urgent reforms, Assad's latest speech, which was only his third since the protests began three months ago, fell short of expectations in Turkey and abroad. In Hatay, there are a few people whose relatives live across the border in Syria. These people are allowed to visit relatives staying in the tent cities for the time being.

The Syrian refugees' initial confinement to designated areas has been highly criticized, but Turkish authorities recently relaxed conditions for the Syrian refugees.

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